Jhonder Cádiz photo courtesy Nashville SC/Major League Soccer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The circumstances may have been different, but for the second time in two weeks, Nashville SC dug an early 2-0 hole and had to claw back to salvage a draw at home in Nissan Stadium. This time around, it was CF Montreal building an early advantage thanks to a beautiful Mason Toye strike and a deflected shot from wingback Zachary Brault-Guillard. NSC managed to fight back via goals from Jhonder Cádiz and Hany Mukhtar, but couldn’t find the winner and kept just a single point in the standings after the 2-2 draw.
A week ago, the Boys in Gold came out sluggish, and cited the adjustment from an abridged preseason into the first competitive match of the year as part of the reason it took a while to get going. This week, however, CF Montreal simply took advantage of a Nashville team that was ready – but unable – to come out of the gates strong.
“I thought last week, we looked off the pace, sharpness, even it can be more so about the sort of mental place that you’re in, and I just don’t think the guys had seen the game that quick for some time,” head coach Gary Smith said. “This week was slightly different. We had a good week’s work. I’m certain that the guys would have taken an awful lot out of last week’s game, and there was no lack of focus in this one: I just thought there was a lack of quality. We were dispossessed of the ball too easily, there were too many cheap giveaways, and it destabilizes the group.”
Mukhtar was named man of the match after scoring the equalizer by slotting home a rebound with his left foot in the 77th minute. The German Designated Player was happy to contribute to his team’s success, but knows there’s plenty of work to be done if NSC is to achieve its goals this season.
“Of course, I just had a couple second-time [from the rebound],” he said. “But yeah, the near post was open and I scored with my left foot. I’m happy to help the team, but of course we are all disappointed that we lost today two points.
“It’s very frustrating, but of course it’s part of our game. We need to watch the video, we need to look what we can do better. The good thing is we create the chances, and that’s a good part of it. But of course, we need to score. One more goal than the opponent, then we get the three points.”
Nashville once again bombarded the opposing goal. The Boys in Gold took 18 shots, six of them forcing saves from Montreal keeper Clement Diop. With only two goals scored from 2.98 expected goals (per Opta), it’s a disappointment. Coming on the heels of a game in which NSC scored just twice despite racking up nearly 3.5 expected goals? It’s statistically unlikely, to say the least.
The key for the team is to avoid the slow starts going forward. There’s every expectation that the luck will even out over the course of the season – and NSC could very well have two wins, rather than two draws, under its belts had the chips fallen in a slightly different way the first two weeks of this young season.
“I think over time, you get what you deserve,” Smith said. “We deserve more than we’re picking up at the moment, but the circumstances of any game are huge. It gives teams a lift when they score, it gives them something to protect when they’re in front. Away from home, it’s certainly a factor that plays into any result if you go two-nil up. So it’s the other side of our game that we need to look at, and work a little bit harder at. I would never ever question the endeavor or the energies out of the group – that’s never ever been an issue and I will keep reinforcing that. In fact, I think we’re in a great physical place.”
NSC found plenty of space down the flanks against Montreal’s 3-5-2 structure. The CFMTL wingbacks were high up the pitch with frequency, and Nashville’s fullbacks and wingers were able to move into open grass behind them throughout the match. However, thanks to Montreal’s crowded penalty area, the connections to create goals didn’t come until much later on.
“I mean, the 3-5-2 is very compact in the middle,” Mukhtar explained. “There’s not much space through the middle. Of course, I like to play through the middle, because I’m there. And I want to have the ball, but we saw that the center’s closed.
“I told [right back Alistair Johnston] that he needs to ask for the ball, more to stay lower and get the ball. Because on the side, we have a 2-v-1. So yeah, the first goal we created from the side, and there’s the space. So that’s what we talked about in the halftime, and yeah, that’s what we have to do against the 3-5-2.”
Nashville will try to find its first win of the season against an Inter Miami team that earned a surprising victory at Philadelphia Union yesterday. Heading up to West Chester, Pa. and taking three points against a Philly side that was perfect at home last year is nothing to overlook – especially given that IMCF took seven contests last year to earn so much as a draw.
When the Herons head to Nissan Stadium next Sunday, they’ll represent a formidable task. The Boys in Gold will have to be up to it early, because earning the comeback won’t be something this team wants to do, much less assumes it can.
- I’ll have a more-nuanced look at it later in the week, but the “this team created nothing in the first half and couldn’t find space” narrative that’s out there didn’t seem accurate as the game unfolded. NSC was able to spring fullbacks and wingers into deep areas in Montreal’s defensive third with some regularity, and a lot of those guys got toward the edge of the penalty area before passing. That final pass certainly didn’t connect, but Nashville presented some danger nonetheless, I thought.
- On the Mason Toye goal, Gary Smith mentioned that he’d have liked to see more pressure on the striker. While that’s fair – any time a guy gets a shot off, by definition you can be closer to him or affect the shot more effectively, I guess – it’s absolutely one of those “tip your hat” plays. Alistair Johnston was even riding his back a little bit, and Walker Zimmerman was hesitant to step up because a runner was arriving. In my business, we say “the other team’s kids are on scholarship, too.”
- The replay angles of the Brault-Guillard strike left a little to be desired, but Joe Willis certainly had the near post covered if not for the deflection. The weird thing is that the deflection pushed the ball even further to the direction that Joe Willis would have had to move for even the initial strike, but he was moving to his left, and it still only ended up in the center of goal. Seems a wicked spin came from Willis’s derriere, and it’s possible that Willis lost sight of it in the process.
- Montreal keeper Clement Diop leaves a lot to be desired in the “don’t time-waste” category (worth noting that the whole team was a little divey- stay-downey, too)., and had trouble cleanly catching a lot of the balls he got his hands onto. But he had a heck of a game from a shot-stopping perspective. As with Przemisław Tyton last week, it’s not like Nashville was making life easy, dude just played extremely well.
- Lots of complaints about the center official around both the Nashville and Montreal fanbases in the wake of the game. It got really chippy, he didn’t have a handle on how to prevent that from happening, and made a lot of 50/50-ish calls the wrong way (both in favor of Nashville and against). All that said, handballs in the box (twice) have drawn a bunch of the attention of NSC fans. Both Montreal handball situations were checked by VAR, and both were correctly deemed not “clear and obvious error” status. If either had been called the other way on the field, I think they’d have stood for VAR. They were close enough that a call on the field was going to stand.